If Lydia Lassila’s Olympic bronze was a win for the brave then David Morris’s silver was a success for the shrewd.
Aerial skier Morris played the percentages brilliantly on Monday night at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park to claim Australia’s third medal of the Sochi Winter Olympics.
The win overshadowed the growing controversy over separate funding deals for Australia’s Olympic athletes.
Going first in the four-man final Morris put down a neat quad-twisting triple somersault (110.41 points) only to be blown away by Anton Kushnir (134.5) with a quin-twister the very next jump.
But the Belarusian’s high-end marker put the pressure on the two Chinese jumpers, Jia Zongyang (95.06) and Qi Guangpu (90) botching their landings to hand Morris the silver.
“I was actually surprised I made it in (the final) and the in last one (jump) I wasn’t super confident doing that skill; basically I just closed my eyes and waited for the ground to come,” he said.
But Morris was much more in control than that.
The beaming 29-year-old, who was fist-pumping and smiling from qualifying all the way through to his podium place, was reasoned from the get go.
His qualifying jump was “the best one I’ve done all year” and he came through in second but the real nerve-jangling came in the first final where he downgraded his jump in the hope of saving his better tricks for the last two finals.
“Strategically that was the right move and I was questioning at the time: do we really want to do this,” he admitted.
He was the last man to qualify for the eight-man final.
And he was the last man to qualify for the four-man final.
Yet it mattered little as he lifted again to take second spot in the decider.
It had been a remarkable journey for Morris, who for years was rejected by Australia’s Olympic Winter Institute because it had devised a program that had been running for more than a decade, exclusively designed for women.
But he persevered until he was accepted.
In 2010 he was 13th in Vancouver, missing out on the finals by one place, and he gave up the sport for a year after busting his hip and having what he described as an Olympic let down.
“I trained through it and kept jumping and it nearly ruined me,” he said of the injury.
“I came back, I wasn’t exactly welcomed back, but I worked my butt off, I started from the very very bottom of the field again and had to earn back every privilege that everyone gets and it was hard.”
And it was worth it.
Elsewhere in the Australian camp, Alex `Chumpy’ Pullin, who’ll go for gold on Tuesday night in the postponed snowboard cross event, found himself responding to questions about funding for the team.
Pullin was dragged into a controversy that had been brewing for months but exploded when Bruce Brockhoff, the father of snowboard cross rider Belle Brockhoff, sent out a letter to journalists saying that he’d cancelled his tickets to Sochi in protest over his daughter’s treatment by the Australian Olympic Committee and its snow sports arm, the Olympic Winter Institute.
In an at times bizarre rant, Brockhoff said there would be people “dancing on the graves” of a number of Australian officials and coaches.
Pullin was drawn into the situation on Monday with Bruce Brockhoff questioning the level of funding the two-time world champion received in comparison to other athletes.
“To be honest, I’m focused on racing right now,” Pullin said when asked about the issue.
“I’m here to purely ride this course. Everyone is getting on fine. I haven’t been paying too much attention to anything back home, and the media, that’s been going on.
“I’m feeling good, everyone is getting on fine: me, Jarryd (Hughes) and Cam (Bolton),” he added in reference two his two snowboard cross teammates.
Hughes had on Saturday refused to answer a question about the well-respected Pullin’s influence on the team.
The 18-year-old is part of a group of snowboarders in the Australian team who had used the hashtag “teamoutcast” at the end of their social media sign-offs, in part as a protest against what they perceived as funding and support issues in the team.
Halfpipe silver medallist Torah Bright, Brockhoff and park and `pipe rider Scotty James form part of the group.
The AOC has so far refused to comment on the Brockhoff missive, saying it would after the event.
The national Olympic body has always maintained that its athletes were funded commensurate with results and that Bright and James had declined scholarships with the OWI.
Meanwhile, Pullin got some heat from another source on Monday when seven-times X Games champion Nate Holland questioned his decision to sit out much of the season.
Pullin only raced in one World Cup event, where he was dispatched in the first round after getting taken out by long-time rival Pierre Vaultier from France.
He also picked up a rib injury.
But American Holland had little sympathy despite Pullin’s outstanding record in the sport over the past four years.
“I think he’s been holding out waiting for this event and I think that is a horrible strategy,” Holland told NBC.com.
“It takes time to get used to riding in a pack of guys. You can ride the course by yourself all day long, but if you are not riding in a pack with a bunch of guys around you it’s some next level stuff.
“You know, he is fast. He’s damn good. I don’t really agree with his strategy of not racing to not get hurt, but who knows.”
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